The establishment of an FBI office in Williston, N.D., is a tangible, if somewhat unsettling, sign of changing times. The fact it’s the first “resident agency” the FBI has opened in 20 years confirms that crime associated with North Dakota’s oil boom is a real phenomenon that demands intensified attention. In this case, “changing times” does not necessarily mean change is good.

As has been frequently reported since the boom took off, the nature of criminal activity in western North Dakota stirred concern. Federal authorities minced no words about what was new about criminal activity. They said it was organized, often gang-affiliated, and rooted in out-of-state criminal enterprises. In other words, an entirely new kind of crime followed the boom – where the money is.

Progress against crime has been significant. Once the depth of the problem was understood, law enforcement on every level began to act. Once community leaders who had never confronted such a dire situation, conceded there was an unprecedented problem, cooperation and collaboration among all levels of law enforcement developed approaches that have worked.

Don’t misunderstand. There has been an FBI presence in major North Dakota cities for decades. The agency has jurisdiction, for example, over major crimes on the state’s American Indian reservations. But the Williston office is new. It underscores recognition by the FBI that the agency has plenty of work to do in oil country communities; and because of its mandate can work across state lines. Moreover the recently formed Bakken Strike Force unites individual crime strike forces in Dickinson, Bismarck, Minot and Williston to more effectively target the worst of criminal organizations.

The goal is to nab the bad guys and to convince those not yet nabbed that doing their kind of business in North Dakota is a loser for them. More law enforcement resources than ever before are in place to put teeth into that message.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.

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